University of Exeter celebrates partnership with local college

The team found that activities which provide a greater “loading stimulus” to the bones, such as football, can improve skeletal health compared to other non-weight bearing sports like cycling and swimming

The Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre (CHERC), an internationally recognised paediatric research department at the University of Exeter, are celebrating seven years of collaboration with Exmouth Community College.

The partnership, which began in 2014, has enabled pupils to be engaged in a wide variety of research, enabling them to learn first-hand about healthy living.

Thanks to the relationship with the college, the research team at CHERC have been able to better understand how physical activity and diet can influence health in youth. This is important, as chronic health problems may originate in early life.

During the seven-year relationship, CHERC have furthered scientific understanding across a range of important areas by publishing 21 experimental research papers in peer-reviewed journals. The research has included studies which are trying to understand what type of exercise is best for metabolic, cardiovascular and bone health.

For example, the team have found that high-intensity exercise might provide superior health benefits to moderate-intensity activities, whilst activities which provide a greater “loading stimulus” to the bones, such as football, can improve skeletal health compared to other non-weight bearing sports like cycling and swimming.

Part of this research has also helped the team understand how nutrition can influence health. These studies have tested the acute effects of popular high-fat and high-sugar foods, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages, which are a contemporary health concern.

Additionally, the collaboration with the college has also helped the CHERC team investigate diseases such as cystic fibrosis and type 1 diabetes.

Dr Owen Tomlinson, cystic fibrosis researcher at the University of Exeter, said: “My research focuses on why children with cystic fibrosis (CF) have a lower level of fitness compared to children without the disease.

“We utilised MRI scans and fitness tests to identify how large the leg muscles are in children with and without CF, and how efficient these muscles are in using oxygen during exercise.

“We found that children with CF have a lower volume, and a lower efficiency, of muscle and this ‘double hit’ likely explains a large proportion of their exercise intolerance.

“Having healthy, active and enthusiastic young people from Exmouth was invaluable in his process.”

The pupils at Exmouth Community College have also benefited from the teaching and research laboratories at the University of Exeter.

Dr Bert Bond, a Lecturer in Sport and Health Sciences, has been continuing the partnership even during the COVID-19 lockdown by hosting online talks for the pupils.

Dr Bond said: “Thanks to the continued enthusiasm of Mrs Wright (Head of Post 16) and the PE dept, and the support of Mr Davis (Principal), this collaboration has enabled pupils to engage with the researchers at CHERC, learn from the latest evidence regarding healthy living, and experience the University environment first hand.

“This relationship has also been a real success story for improving our understanding across a variety of important research questions.”

Mrs Rachel Wright, Head of Post 16 at Exmouth Community College, said: “As a college we are extremely lucky to be part of cutting edge science, inspiring our young people and also giving opportunities for students to use laboratory equipment.

“Dr Bond has not only supported our level 3 sports students but also given assemblies and lessons on findings and the impact it has on all of us. I look forward to the next research paper and allow our students to experience science first hand.”

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